To improve cancer chemotherapy, we need to understand the mechanisms that determine drug sensitivity in cancer and normal cells. Here, we investigate this question across a panel of 11 cell lines at a phenotypic and molecular level for three antimitotic drugs: paclitaxel, nocodazole, and an inhibitor of kinesin-5 (also known as KSP, Eg5, Kif11). Using automated microscopy with markers for mitosis and apoptosis (high content screening), we find that the mitotic arrest response shows relatively little variation between cell types, whereas the tendency to undergo apoptosis shows large variation. We found no correlation between levels of mitotic arrest and apoptosis. Apoptosis depended on entry into mitosis and occurred both from within mitosis and after exit. Response to the three drugs strongly correlated, although paclitaxel caused more apoptosis in some cell lines at similar levels of mitotic arrest. Molecular investigations showed that sensitivity to apoptosis correlated with loss of an antiapoptotic protein, XIAP, during the drug response, but not its preresponse levels, and to some extent also correlated with activation of the p38 and c-Jun NH(2) kinase pathways. We conclude that variation in sensitivity to antimitotic drugs in drug-naive cell lines is governed more by differences in apoptotic signaling than by differences in mitotic spindle or spindle assembly checkpoint proteins and that antimitotics with different mechanisms trigger very similar, but not identical, responses.